ERWIN — It has taken less than two years for the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail to become one of the most popular destinations for hiking and biking in Northeast Tennessee, and the town of Unicoi is set to break ground on a project that, once complete, will provide an added convenience to the ever-increasing number of Unicoi County visitors and residents who take advantage of the trail.
Early next week, town officials will hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the planned covered pavilion that will eventually be constructed at the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail trailhead.
“It will make it a little more convenient for the hikers and bikers when they come up,” town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said. “This is a well-used trailhead. ... We’re delighted that people like it so much and hope that they continue to use it.”
The pavilion will be constructed around 80 to 90 feet up from the trail’s current parking area. Town of Unicoi Parks and Recreation Director Travis Barbee said the pavilion will initially be large enough to house two picnic tables and restrooms, which will provide hikers and bikers with access to hot and cold water. Town officials are also leaving room for growth.
“It’s made where it’s expandable,” Barbee said. “Right now, we’re just building the first bay, which will house two picnic tables, but it’s being built to where we can easily add on a second bay and a third bay.”
Elizabethton-based Reedy and Sykes Architecture and Design is the architectural firm overseeing the project, and Johnson City-based Preston Construction Co. has been charged with building the pavilion. The project is being funded through a state Recreational Trails Program grant for $150,000 that the town previously secured. The town is responsible for a 20 percent match on the grant, which was to be used for the establishment of a trailhead.
Barbee said this grant, which the town had been waiting on for around 1½ years, was executed last week.
“Things have been kind of steamrolling since then,” he said. “Things have kind of been moving fast.”
Construction on the pavilion is set to begin March 18. While no definitive timeline has been set for its completion, Barbee said officials hope to see the pavilion in place and ready for hiking and biking enthusiasts within the next six months.
A grand opening for the nearly five-mile trail, located directly off Exit 32 of Interstate 26, was held in October 2011. The trail itself and the Pinnacle Fire Tower located at its terminus atop Buffalo Mountain is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The trailhead area, known as Jack Snider Park, is owned by the town of Unicoi.
Lynch said construction of the pavilion may lead to additional parking becoming available at the trailhead. He also said town officials have other ideas in mind that will tie in with the pavilion, including placing informational kiosks at the structure to provide visitors with information on places of interest in the area, as well as educational information on plants and points of interest along the trail.
“We’ve got a little think tank going on with things that we can do to enhance that experience up there walking the Pinnacle Trail,” Lynch said.